The following interview with Peter Adams, author of The Hub, was conducted via email in July and August of 2020. This is the second of four parts.
David Starkey: Teaching has changed dramatically with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Over the past summer, you and I were part of a Macmillan workshop on teaching corequisite composition. One of the biggest challenges many instructors seemed to be facing was teaching the corequisite online. I realize you’ve been retired for a few years, but we heard a lot of interesting suggestions from faculty participants. What’s your thinking right now about how best to teach the coreq in a distance learning format?
Peter Adams: Let’s start with the admission that most of us are working hard to figure out how best to teach a coreq in a virtual environment. I know I am, and that I have learned a lot from listening to others’ efforts to figure this out . . . and, as you say, I learned a lot from the folks who attended our Macmillan workshop in June.
One issue I found fascinating was the bifurcated attitudes toward synchronous and asynchronous approaches. Some instructors argue that the only way to create the sense of belonging, of engagement, is to spend at least some time with everyone meeting at one time in some kind of on-line space like Zoom or Google Hangouts. Other instructors pointed out that requiring everyone to be signed on at the same time would be impossible for many students who have limited computer and Wi-Fi access.
DS: I’ve found myself in the asynchronous camp for reasons of both practicality and equity. Still, there are times when I sorely miss the back-and-forth exchange between students and teacher that only a classroom—even a virtual one—can provide.
PA: Lots of instructors have reached that same conclusion, David, but I have ended up with a wanting to find just the right balance between synchronous and asynchronous approaches. It does seem to me that if we are going to hold synchronous sessions, we will have to be flexible with our attendance requirements at these, and whenever possible, we should make video recordings available for those students who were unable to attend.
Another promising approach I learned about when visiting a college just before the pandemic was to organize the class into groups of three or four students and to have each group settle on a time they can meet online. Instructors could then assign these groups tasks to work on as a group—tasks like revising an essay, making a list of the evidence to support the thesis in a text, or analyzing the rhetorical situation in a writing assignment. This approach would seem to help with creating the kinds of bonds, or relationships, the sense of belonging that is so important to keeping students in school . . . especially in these times of isolation, without requiring that everyone be online at the same time.
DS: I agree that’s an excellent idea. The accelerated courses I’ve taught that have been most successful have been those where students feel that other students care about their progress and have their backs when things get tough.
PA: In addition, of course, lots of instructors are preparing video presentations that their students can view whenever they have access to the internet. My sense is that long videos are not so successful. A more productive approach is a short video, ten minutes at most, and then some kind of activity to apply or respond to the material from the video. These activities could be carried out individually or in the small groups.
DS: At my college, Santa Barbara City College—and across the nation, too, I assume—we’ve been finding one hidden workload issue for those not used to teaching online is the requirement that all video and audio presentations must be captioned. Obviously, we want to offer equal access to all students, but I know some of my colleagues have been rethinking their more ambitious plans in the audio-visual arena.
PA: I’ve been lucky in this regard. All the videos in my text, The Hub, have captions. Bedford has the resources to have these done professionally.
DS: Workload aside, I’ve always felt that the combination of text, image and sound has the biggest potential to make an impact on student learning. I hope we can figure out ways to make this appeal to three of the four main learning styles a more central part of our teaching.
Part 3 of this conversation will appear next month.